Loki review: God of Mischief's solo adventure is one of the best in Marvel’s slate of TV shows
At its heart, Loki is about destiny and free will, or more specifically, how those two concepts collide violently into one another. And the results are extremely satisfying.
After the entertaining but comparatively pedestrian adventures of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, the timeline jumping shenanigans of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) mark a return to form for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) newest foray into expanding onto the small screen.
One of the best aspects of Marvel’s slate of TV shows is that they seem to exist solely for the benefit of those who are already fans and want more time with their favourite heroes and villains. This approach affords those who want it an opportunity to explore smaller topics in greater detail, away from the constraints of theatre dictated runtimes and three-act story structures. And these opportunities for deeper world-building is something I am truly delighted by.
As the MCU inches closer to expanding into a full-blown multi-verse, something that has been hinted at as early as 2012, Loki does a lot of heavy lifting to help establish the major villain/s, set the stakes and help audiences become more comfortable with time travel and multiple parallel timelines; concepts that have featured in recent Marvel films, but never taken centre stage before.
The much-awaited return of the god of mischief is a very welcome one indeed. While I have preferred the MCU’s trend of not re-using old villains (usually because the villains so rarely survive to the end of the film), I did lament the loss of the MCU’s only villain turned anti-hero. The Loki we follow throughout the show is definitively not our Loki, who still died (or, will die) at the hands of Thanos (more on that in the spoiler section below). The Loki we follow here is one who cameoed during the time heist in Avengers: Endgame, making his escape from the battle of New York prior to his redemption arc and still very much a self-aggrandising villain.
It is with this escape that Laufeyson runs afoul of a new faction making its on-screen debut, the time variance authority or TVA. This mysterious and powerful organisation exists to ensure that all events, both past and future, all unfold in the ‘correct’ manner in accordance to a ‘sacred timeline’ woven into existence by their creators and masters, The Time Keepers.
The TVA, which governs over time from a seemingly infinite 1960s inspired ochre and beige bureaucracy, is an important organisation in Marvel comics that involves itself when temporal events that alter the flow of time occur.
In or out?
I think it was around the release of Avengers: Infinity War, that Marvel simply stopped trying to bring new audience members up to speed. It was a bold move but a fair one, at that point you were either in or out and there was simply too much ground to cover for absolute newcomers to follow. And Marvel’s TV offerings have so far been carrying on this new status quo. This is a show for fans and rightly expects you to have a working knowledge of what’s going on in the rest of the Marvel Universe. I suppose it's not mandatory but you'll get much more out of it if you are up to speed on the MCU.
If you've seen and enjoyed Avengers: Endgame but been on the fence about getting into Loki, then I'd highly recommend you give it a shot. And if you're a fan of the MCU then in all probability you've already seen Loki and can safely head down to the spoilers section if you'd like to read a bit of wild speculation about what could be coming next.
At its heart, Loki is about destiny and free will, or more specifically, how those two concepts collide violently into one another. And the results are extremely satisfying. The existence and success of the TVA forgoes the possibility of any event having an outcome outside of what is allowed by the timekeepers, effectively robbing all life across the multi-verse of free will. As you might imagine, such an arrangement sits poorly with those who thrive off chaos, including a certain god of mischief.
In a proverbial attempt to fight fire with fire, the TVA’s agent Mobius attempts to recruit our errant Loki to help bring in the most dangerous fugitive the TVA has ever encountered, one that has embarked upon a personal vendetta against the organisation itself. Temporal hijinks ensue.
Along with the epic comic book adventure that viewers would expect, what follows is a meditation on the meaning and value of agency in a multi-verse beset by forces who prize order and conformity over all other factors. As well as the consequences of seeking to express that agency. It also successfully turns a major villain of the MCU into a tragic figure that we can‘t help but root for, even if you still retain fond memories of The Hulk using him as a fleshy sledgehammer.
The idea that Loki has to be a villain, since to be anything else would violate the so-called ‘sacred timeline’, really helps make him a sympathetic figure. Can you truly fault someone for being evil when they are quite literally not allowed to be anything else? And when we lack free will, do we deserve to bear the responsibility of our actions?
Loki is a great show, perhaps the best one that marvel has released to date. If I have a complaint it's that six 40+ minute episodes are just too little for a show this good. Like going to a Michelin star restaurant only for the main course to be the size of a tennis ball. It's very good...but there's not enough of it.
I was initially concerned how a show of this scope could be pulled off on a TV budget, but Loki doesn’t come up short on visual spectacle, with some major set pieces that would not be out of place in any of Marvel's feature films. And while I’m singing praises, by far one of my favourite parts of this show is the outstanding score by composer Natalie Holt, with at least one great new composition in each episode.
You are the captain of your soul. Not despots, not authoritarian time travelling hall-monitors, not even the universe itself can stop a suitably determined person from striving to be more than what others expect them to be. But there can be no freedom without consequence and no agency without responsibility. It’s a message I can get behind, and one that many people need to hear.
For the sake of brevity, I’ve limited all the main spoilers I wanted to talk about to a few key questions and theories that fans had at the end of the show. If any of these were gnawing at you, I may not have a lot of answers for you, but I can at least reassure you that you aren’t the only one in the dark.
Question 1: We’ve finally got a hero Loki. Could he even become ‘worthy’ at some point?
We’ve seen villain Loki and anti-hero Loki, now we may finally have on our hands a genuine Hero Loki. With the timeline branching so aggressively, it’s possible that we’ll see at least one of them, if not our starring variant, wield Mjolnir at some point.
Question 2: How did Loki and Sylvie trigger a nexus event on Lamentis during an apocalypse scenario?
It is never really made clear what was going to happen on Lamentis that would allow a nexus event to form. Sylvie had been hiding successfully in various apocalypses (apocalypi?) because there was no way to influence a dead-end timeline and cause a branch. Even with two Lokis present, nothing should have changed that, even if they were in the middle of a binding moment.
I suppose He Who Remains may have manipulated things to ensure they still got their face to face at the end, but there’s never any clear answer offered for what exactly happened.
Question 3: Is classic Loki our Prime Loki who actually evaded Thanos and subsequently retired to a life of peaceful but ultimately unfulfilling solitude?
It does feel like that door was left intentionally open, although I doubt it will ever be confirmed one way or the other. For my part, I don’t think that is the case as, in episode 1, variant Loki is shown a movie of his life on a film reel that definitively ends with Thanos killing him.
That said, this reel does seem to be of Earth-616, the Marvel comics prime continuity, while the MCU has officially been referred to as Earth-199999. So maybe Classic Loki is, in fact, our original Loki finally meeting his end after making it all the way to the end of time.
Question 4: Where did Judge Renslayer go?
While she presumably working under orders from He Who Remains (AKA Good Kang), it is unclear what her mission is or where she is going. Kang did mention that if he were to be killed that he would just be reborn and start the cycle all over again, so Renslayer may have left to ensure that good Kang does have a chance to return in some way or trigger some other failsafe that Kang had waiting in the wings.
Question 5: Did Sylvie kick Loki into an alternate timeline? Or did multiple nexus events unfolding change the main timeline?
The answer to this is left somewhat intentionally vague, but my guess is that he is in an alternate timeline since even if the timeline has diverged, Mobius and Hunter B-15 should still be able to remember who he is. That said, who can really say for certain what objective reality even is when time travel is involved.
Question 6: How often are we going to see Kang going forward?
After all the fan speculation of Mephisto’s definite involvement in WandaVision amounted to nothing at all, many were hesitant to connect the TVA to Kang even when there were obvious indicators for sharp-eyed fans in episode 5.
Thankfully Marvel didn’t decide to pull the rug out from under us theory-crafting nerds a second time around although the decision to have He Who Remains, the Wizard-of-Oz like figure behind the TVA turn out to be a (probably) benevolent variant of Kang the conqueror was a pretty inspired choice.
With so many Kangs with dreams of conquest soon to be at large, it’s not impossible that much of phase 4 and beyond could involve multiple battles with Kang variants, with Heroes winning hard-fought battles to defeat one, only for another to pop up elsewhere like an eternal game of multi-versal whack-a-mole.
We already have at least two appearances confirmed with Kang expected in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania set to be released in 2023 as well as the second season of Loki which will probably drop in 2022. Having multiple meaningful early confrontations with the new ‘big bad’ of the MCU is probably going to be more rewarding than watching Thanos gradually prepare for a final showdown (or two) with the Avengers over the course of 8 years and countless mid and post-credits scenes.
I don’t know how many of these questions will ever be answered, but unlike several other major comic-book and sci-fi franchises I could name, Marvel has done something that neither DC nor its Disney sibling property Star Wars ever bothered to do. Have a real plan and a solid roadmap in place before you start production instead of trying to ‘wing it’ when it comes to developing your multi-billion-dollar entertainment properties. It’s been paying off so well for so long that whatever answers we do get, even a cynic like me will probably be satisfied.
Loki is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar Premium.
Earnest intentions aren’t enough to prevent this Apple TV+ animated feature from slipping on a banana peel and falling flat on its face.
Between the 30s and 40s, three names were prominent in the Hindi film music bandwagon: Rajkumari Dubey, Zohrabai Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnataki.